For the [tl;dr] folks: multiple D800 cameras had faulty 10-pin connectors. If you’re affected, please continue reading.
To the right is my D800. It’s 1.5 years old, out of warranty, and when I wanted to plug in the remote a couple of days ago, the connector came lose and is useless now (you can see it’s off-center).
If you’re a D800 user, please check your 10-pin port. Gently pinch it with your little finger (if you dare, and at your own risk of course, I hope you understand). If it moves or wiggles, it will break sooner or later, and look just like mine, in the photo (it doesn’t wiggle or move on my 4 year old D700 at all, by the way).
A brief internet search, like typing just “D800 10” into a Google search box brings up an auto-complete suggestion for “D800 10 pin issue” and searching for that reveals over 100,000 search hits to photo forums and sites where users describe that their connector broke. That’s a very broad search, but narrowing it down by including the words “broken” etc. still returns many results.
Among them, this archived Nikon Rumours Forum thread where no less than ten individual users are reporting this very problem (partly documented with the serial numbers of the cameras). Ten users, in a single forum thread! Similar discussions can be found in the D800 group on Flickr, in the DPReview forums, etc.
From my point of view, this looks a lot like there is a design and/or quality control issue with at least a certain batch of this camera. Most cases that I’ve found online are from the second half of 2012. Which is exactly the time that I bought my D800.
Sometimes the connector broke within only days, or even when plugging in a remote for the very first time (link to dpreview.com forum post). These cameras were either exchanged by the dealer, or repaired by Nikon under warranty. Cameras that were returned to the dealer because of this defect must have gone back to Nikon for repair as well.
While already in contact with Nikon’s US Service, further research then led me to the German “Nikon Fotografie-Forum” where there is an eight pages long thread about the problem, again with multiple affected users. Interestingly, one user (whom a local Nikon Service Partner initially wanted to charge for the repair) communicated with Nikon through his lawyer, and in their reply, Nikon Service Germany admitted back in November 2012 already that the failing 10-pin connector is a known problem. I have a scanned copy of that letter. The user quotes the most important parts in red in this post (it’s in German). So Nikon knows about the problem.
What I also learned (from prolific Nikon writer and commentator Thom Hogan, whom I contacted) is that, if Nikon repairs the 10-pin port of affected D800’s, they are adding a fix that was not part of the original design, to avoid that it will break again.
After I went to Nikon’s website and browsed the D800 support area for an official statement (and couldn’t find any) I called Nikon’s support to ask what the deal is with this defect when my camera is out of warranty. The only answer I got from the support agent was that I need to send in my camera before he’d be able to help me.
Now a local repair shop told me that I could be looking at repair costs of ~$400* because the camera needs to be disassembled quite a bit (it involves replacing the rubber grips because some of the screws are under the rubbers). I broke stuff in the past, and I paid for the repairs**. I’m not stingy, but I don’t have money to waste either. Not for something that appears to be a design/QC issue.
The service agent on the phone registered my camera in their system and opened a case, to which I replied on the same day, repeating that it appears this problem is a fairly widespread issue for the camera, and stating that I’m unwilling to pay even for shipping unless Nikon can tell me that they’re aware of this problem, and will fix it for free. I also asked that the case be escalated to a supervisor if the agent wasn’t able to give me more information. I made it very clear that I didn’t break the connector (just like it didn’t break when I was using the same remote on the D200 body, and my D700).
After another reply from the agent that I need to send the camera in before Nikon would tell me anything, I repeated my wish that the case be escalated and attached the above image of the broken connector to the conversation – which looks just like the dozens of other images on the internet. Seriously, one look at that image should tell them enough.
The following day, a Nikon Supervisor responded, stating “We can tell you that we do not have known issues of this nature with the D800. A damaged port is usually considered user error and not a manufacturer’s defect” and also that Nikon would not comment on 3rd party websites (in response to my pointing out the numerous cases documented on internet forums, again). I would like to give that person the benefit of doubt because there are many Nikon cameras and many service cases. But then again, it doesn’t shed a good light on Nikon’s internal service processes: assuming that the supervisor didn’t lie to me in her response, it means that Nikon didn’t communicate this issue internally (see above; I have a copy of a letter from Nikon Germany’s head of the service department, Michael Wollburg, to a law firm, in which he confirms that the failing 10-pin connector is a known issue). Do I really want to believe that? Hmmm.
In my response, I kindly asked the supervisor to check the available information again, stating that I find the comment “this is user error” a bit odd, to say the least. I compared the D800’s 10-pin connector to a power outlet in a wall. If the outlet disappears into the wall when you try to plug in a socket, it’s probably not “user error” – and I went on to express that we’re talking about a $3000 camera body, and that I have higher expectations on both the built and service quality that I’m buying with such a product.
The supervisor’s reply was brief, repeating that the warranty is 1 year from purchase, and “therefore regardless your warranty has expired.” – I was angry being brushed off like this despite the note of a possible discount once the product was received for service and evaluated. I didn’t want to bargain for a discount. I wanted Nikon to get real, and behind their products, especially if there’s problems with them. I asked for the case to be escalated, once more (I had to ask the first service agent twice, and I had to ask the supervisor twice).
Two days later, a Nikon Service Relations representative responded, offering me a complimentary repair “for good customer relations” if a technician would not determine impact damage or misuse of the product.
I told the representative that I wouldn’t expect the repair “for good customer relations”, but because Nikon is committed to the quality of it’s products, and handles such issues with awareness, openness and honesty. I mentioned that the way Nikon has handled issues with the D800 and D600 was worrisome to me (see also: “The Missing Nikon D800/D800E Press Release” by Bob Vishneski – should I draft one of these for the D800’s failing 10-pin connector, perhaps?)
On April 14th, I sent my camera to the Nikon Service Center in Los Angeles. Shipping and insurance amounted to over $60, via UPS.
On April 18th Nikon sent me an automated service acknowledgement and estimate for a “B2 repair”, which is $224 plus $12.50 shipping (which means they ship without insurance, by the way – seriously?). This would be the price to repair what is actually a design or QC flaw in some D800 and D800e cameras.
I had added the reference number of the conversation in Nikon’s service system to the documents when sending the camera in. To receive an automated estimate which made it necessary again to contact them was a disappointment.
After adding one more reply to the already lengthy conversation, another support agent answered on April 21st that the estimate was sent out automatically, the amount had been taken out, and that the repair will be free of charge to me.
On April 29th, the camera was delivered back from repair. The repair invoice includes replacement of the remote terminal and the rubber grips (as expected, because most screws are under the rubbers), cleaning of the image sensor (yay!), a general check & clean, and “adjust auto focus operation” – I can only guess that this means they checked my camera for the left area auto focus issue as well. Good! And as stated in ** below, the repair itself was (once more) done well as far as I can see, and the camera is clean and looks great.
I could be satisfied at this point. But the lack of an official statement (like the one Nikon finally issued for the D600 dust/oil spot issue, way too late, and only after being threatened by a class action suit and receiving a ton of negative publicity) doesn’t make me happy. Maybe there is an implied admittance that they know about the problem when I was offered the complementary repair if no impact damage or misuse would be found.
Why it took me several days of discussion with Nikon’s service to get to this point is completely beyond me. This would have been the answer I expected from the first service agent that I spoke with, right on the phone: “It’s a known problem, if you send it in and there is no evidence of impact damage or misuse, we will repair it free of charge, regardless of the warranty.” – is it so difficult to be honest and customer friendly?
The way it is now, my free repair is still a single, isolated case, and I have the feeling that, if I hadn’t insisted and kept replying and arguing, I would’ve paid the full $224 plus $12.50 return shipping. That’s why I’m documenting it in this blog post, to create a reference for others who run into the same problem, especially when their camera is out of warranty.
And you can help me and other D800 users: please share this post (sharing buttons below) so that others can check their port, preferably while their camera is still within warranty, to safe them the trouble I’m having now. Thank you.
*) interestingly, they also told me that they have the parts in stock because they “repaired a couple of them already” – I don’t know if those were warranty repairs or not, but if a local repair shop knows immediately what I’m talking about when I call them, how can the official Nikon USA support claim that they don’t know about any issue with the port?
**) and I’d like to add that, with the three lens repairs that the Nikon service in LA did for me in the past, as well as the minor repairs at the local, authorized service center, I had absolutely nothing to complain about. Only the lack of a shipping notification from Nikon, and the fact that UPS just drops off a $1000 lens at the door without signature are a bit problematic, in my opinion.